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Virgil "Mike" Phillips Jr.
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Mike Phillips died peacefully in his home the week of October 22, 2023. He was preceded in death by his parents, Virgil and Ann Phillips. He is survived by his daughter, Alina Graves (Warren) of Ronan, his son, Virgil Antoine Phillips, of Missoula, his sister, Barb Phillips, of Ronan, his brother, Bob Phillips, of Utah, and his 2 grandchildren, Pathe Woodard and Liliana Graves.
Mike Phillips was born Virgil Martin Phillips, Jr. on August 14, 1952, in Saint Ignatius, Montana. Ann wanted to name him after his father, but Virgil wanted to call him Mike, after a good friend who had died in a mining accident in Anaconda. Mike was the name that stuck, and it was rare that anyone called him anything else.
His early childhood was spent at the foot of the Missions, where Virgil instilled in Mike a love of the outdoors. He taught him to hunt, fish, and be a part of the natural world in a way that shaped who Mike was. Fishing the beaver ponds below Ashley Lakes with his dad was one of his fondest memories.
When he was 7, their family moved to Ronan, where Mike would attend school. There, he made lifelong friendships, although the traditional classroom wasn’t his cup of tea. To the dismay of his schoolteacher mother, he made frequent visits to the principal’s office. He never really liked doing as he was told.
Despite his challenges with authority, Mike graduated from Ronan High School in 1970. He fought fires that summer, and earned enough money to afford one semester at the University of Montana, where he started a degree in Forestry. When the second semester came around, Mike needed a loan to continue. When the bank told him he would need to cut his hair before they’d loan him a cent, that was the end of Mike’s university education.
Not long after, Mike met his wife, Dellie Cote. Together they had many adventures and happy times, the best of these being the birth of their daughter, Alina Pearl, on May 17, 1980. Mike loved to tell the story of Alina’s birth, since the very next day, Mt. St. Helens erupted. Mike and Dellie divorced in 1983. They would remain good friends, though, and always held each other in high regard.
In 1997, Mike was proud and happy when he and Peggy Antoine welcomed into the world their son, Virgil. He raised Virgil on his own and passed on to him all of the same things his dad had taught him. Some of his happiest last days were spent hunting and fishing with his son.
For the last years of his life, Mike kept mostly to himself in his cabin that he built with logs from his land. He grew a garden (there was one crop in particular that he enjoyed and became an expert at cultivating), harvested deer, fished, and picked huckleberries. He loved his spot on the side of the mountain. Trips to town were rare, although he did make the drive to Ronan for his granddaughter’s high school graduation in 2022. As he got older and winters got harder to endure, his kids tried to convince him to make things a little easier on himself, but he would have none of it. He chose the way he lived, and he chose the way he died, never swaying from his strong convictions, the same way he had done all of his life.
There will be a memorial for Mike in the spring. To remember Mike, we ask that you look up to the snow on the Missions, and wish him a good journey for the rest of his travels, with lots of sunny days, and tell stories of your times with him. He always loved a good story.